Archive for the ‘Leisure’ Category

Pop quiz at 1 AM

September 15, 2007

The night before last I met a few of my friends out at a bar. By 1 AM two of us were left. We finished up our beers and left the bar. My friend drove off and I remained behind in the parking lot for about 5 minutes to let my car warm up.

I’ve been having trouble with my car. The fuel pump seems to be going, so unless the car is really warm, it won’t run well at all. When I figured the car was warm, I pulled out of the lot and started to drive home. Almost immediately after making the right turn out of the parking lot, what should pass me going in the opposite direction but a cop car. No big deal, I thought.

As it turned out though, I hadn’t been paying attention while waiting for the car to warm up. The parking lot was well lit, and so I never noticed that I had neglected to turn on my headlights. When I pulled out of the lot my lights were still off.

Big mistake.

Not 60 seconds went by when I looked into my rearview mirror to see the cop car behind me, lights flashing. “Oh, here we go,” I muttered. I put the dome light of my car on and pulled over.

Now, I wasn’t any more nervous than I ever am when pulled over, because I knew that I had not had too much to drink. As a rule, I drink moderately. The cop came up to my window and said why he had stopped me. I explained about the fuel pump and the lights in the lot — an honest mistake, right?

A few more pointed questions by the officer, and I had to admit where I was coming from and how many beers I had had. Remember, he had to have seen me pull out of the bar, and even one beer leaves an unmistakable trace on the breath.

He asked if I thought I was okay to drive, and I told him I believed I was.

And then, in a very friendly, “just doing my job” tone of voice he explained that he was pulling DUI patrol that night. “How about you step out of the car and we’ll make sure you’re okay to drive?”

So there you have it — I was on my way to taking my first ever field sobriety test.

Again, I knew how much I had had to drink, and while drinking I always keep in mind the charts we’re all given in high school health class mapping out drinks per hour according to your weight and the resulting blood alcohol level. I felt confident I was okay to drive and that the cop asked me to step out of the car because he had no reason to believe I wasn’t lying about how many drinks I had consumed.

I think perhaps the police are lied to so often that they begin to lose all faith in humanity.

The cop acted very professionally the whole time, a fact I appreciated. I’ve noticed that police officers treat me far differently now than when I was 20 and being pulled over every few months for doing 76 in a 55. I suppose I can count this as one of the few benefits of growing older.

Before we started any of the tests, I looked right at him and in a friendly but diplomatically firm manner told him, “Officer, I’ll do anything you ask; but I’m not reciting the alphabet backwards. I couldn’t do that if you gave me Ritalin.” He cracked a good natured smile and said not to worry — he doesn’t ask anyone to recite the alphabet backwards.

He asked me to follow the tip of his pen with my eyes, without turning my head; to recite the alphabet beginning at letter “D” and ending at “S”; and to stand on one foot with my other foot 6 inches off the ground, while counting “one-one-thousand, two-one-thousand…” He didn’t stop me until I got to 30. He then asked me to blow into some kind of breathalyzer — though apparently, the portable version he used is meant only to contribute to giving the cop enough evidence to haul you in for the real chemical test. In New York, the results from the box I blew into aren’t admissible in court.

A lawyer would tell you to refuse any of these field sobriety tests. And such advice is unequivocally sound — if you’re going to fail them. In the end, it’s your call. Lawyers are in the business of billing hourly.

The cop told me to have a seat in my car and to wait for him. A minute later he returned my license and registration and bid me get home safely — and to make sure I put my headlights on.

I started my car; put my headlights on; double-checked that they were on; pulled off of the shoulder; noticed my heart skipping a beat, and then another; and made my way home.

I’ve always been a good test taker.

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A trip to the Italian Consulate

September 4, 2007

After getting home past midnight from work, I was out the door by 6 AM this morning to catch a train to Manhattan. I volunteered to keep my girlfriend’s daughter, Emily, company while she applied for a Visa at the Italian Consulate to study at the University of Urbino for this coming fall and spring semesters. The last time she went was a complete horror show which I’ve blogged about before, and though we were pretty sure things would go okay this time, nothing was for certain.

We got on line at the consulate at 9, when it opened, and Emily went in a few minutes later with a group of people. Only those getting Visas are allowed in, so I went across the street to sit down on concrete. The consulate is right off of Park Avenue, and the sidewalks have trees planted every 25 feet or so in 5×5 beds filled with wood chips. The beds are square and contained by 6 inch wide humps of concrete rising about a foot off of the ground.

It makes the street quite lovely.

As lovely as it is though, it obviously is not meant to be too comfortable, or the fancy folk on Park Avenue would no doubt find themselves troubled by bums making an afternoon of lounging under the trees. There was nowhere else to sit though, so I made the best of it, took out a book I brought with me, and began to read.

11:30 and still no sign of Emily, I took a walk of a couple of blocks to Hunter College to use the restroom. When I came back I decided to try to grab one of the two chairs on the sidewalk right outside of the consulate. After a few minutes of waiting I managed to get one of the chairs. While waiting, I struck up a conversation with the person sitting in the other, a charming young lady from Turkey.

Eda just got to the United States two weeks ago. She’s attending the University of Connecticut as a Ph.D. candidate in comparative literature. She, too, was keeping a friend company on his trip to get a Visa and like me was more or less stranded on the street corner waiting much longer than expected for her friend to come out.

At 12:20 — almost 3 1/2 hours since our friends had entered the consulate — Emily sent me the following text message: “Probably going to be here for a long time.” A second message followed: “Not allowed to use phone.” It turns out she was sending these messages on the sly from the bathroom.

Eda had no cell phone with her, but we figured the news couldn’t be any better regarding her friend.

We spent the next hour or so chatting about her studies, the curriculum she was planning for her teaching assistantship, and her favorite books. It turns out we both very much like Robert Fitzgerald’s translation of The Odyssey. At some point we grabbed coffee from a street vendor on the other end of the block.

Emily came out around 1:30. It turns out she was chatting with Eda’s friend while in the consulate. She figured Eda’s friend wouldn’t be too much longer, and so with that bit of good news Emily and I wished Eda good luck and took off for lunch.

We had lunch a few blocks away at an Italian restaurant that had tables out on the sidewalk. Both of our lunches were fantastic. I had homemade ravioli stuffed with veal in a wild mushroom sauce — “Panzotti alla ‘Casalinga.'” As we were eating, Emily made the point that it makes no sense whatsoever to eat at Applebee’s. For three bucks more per entrée, you go from a greasy concoction of corporate America to the best dish you’ve had in a while.

We took the train back shortly after lunch and arrived home around 5. She has to go back to the consulate one more time to pick up her Visa. It’ll be cutting it close — only two days before she leaves for Italy — but it seems everything is going to work out.

I may have to make another trip of it.